For the last several years we have all been inundated with the admonishment to collect and use data in decision making.  As Joe Tish, Senior Manager for Client Success at Patron Technology suggests in his December 4 blog post, many are asking, "is this really something I can do at my organization?"

Using data wisely takes an organization-wide commitment

There are steps you can take now to move your organization forward.  Last year we surveyed and interviewed organizations concerning their use of data and technology in making business decisions.  We surveyed a cross section of nonprofit organizations and received 1,126 responses, 11% of which were arts-related organizations.  Respondent organizations ranged in size from those with fundraising budgets of $10K and below to those with budgets of $25M and above.

Our research shows that there are five distinct stages of nonprofit data maturity:

Based on a study of these different levels of maturity, we identified the following key areas that differentiate those who are practicing data-informed decision making from those who are less data-informed.

Data informed organizations

  • Enrich their data with wealth, demographic and behavioral data on a regular basis
  • Use of variety of sources for data enrichment when needed, such as surveys, focus groups and demographic appends
  • Are much more likely to have and Data and Analytics department or designated individual conducting analytics than other respondents
  • Are actively planning for technology needs into the future either as a part of their strategic plan or with a separate technology strategic plan
  • Have a satisfactory or very satisfactory opinion of their technical support, with a slight preference for dedicated technical support or organization-wide technical support over outsourced or no support
  • Have access to information in the form of reports, preferably by pulling reports directly on their own and/or by accessing real-time data through dashboards
  • Have leadership that supports and encourages measurement of ROI and accountability for results

Whether your organization has been slow to adopt a data culture, or is leading the pack, understand that we are all at the very nascent stage of using data and technology to drive business intelligence and decision making.

Need to build a case for incorporating business intelligence into your organization?

  • Find the “Pain Points” in your organization. Talk with each decision maker, including marketing, development, community outreach, finance, human resources, and programming to determine which decisions they struggle with, where they are seeking new information and insight, and how your competencies can complement their needs.
  • For each, show how a structured approach to BI would alleviate uncertainty, and maximize accuracy and confidence in the decision.
  • Develop a map of current organizational competencies. Do several departments employ analytics and prospect and/or market research expertise? Where are there overlapping or complementing competencies? Can forming a loose or structured Business Intelligence Group or Unit improve collaboration, generate ideas or provide added attention to the potential value of business intelligence to the organization?
  • Find and form relationships with those in your organization who have the competencies you lack, perhaps data, IT, programming or other technical specialties. Or alternatively, on the business side, those who bring business strategy and business process understanding to the table.
  • Find and form relationships with decision makers in the business environment who believe in and will help champion your case.
  • Where possible, begin by helping with some of the smaller projects. Small successes will feed your case and your project pipeline.
  • Strive to develop a reporting relationship with strategic and business decision makers rather than with IT or technical decision makers. A BI unit can become the organization’s problem solving team, as long as it interfaces with leadership and is encouraged to flourish in a top-down environment. Where BI is housed and reports to Information Technology, projects tend to be bottom-up and the value may not be evident to leadership. More importantly, the problems being solved are less likely to have a strategic business purpose, and value to your organization will be lost.

You can find out more about our survey and how organizations use data as business intelligence, including case studies and examples, in our white paper, Business Intelligence: A Model for Nonprofits.

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